Space Ark Review
Derby developers Strawdog Studios, was last seen bringing Geon: Emotions to our consoles back in 2007. Three years on and we now find ourselves travelling through space as an Arkonaut, searching for new inhabitable planets in the studio’s latest funkadelic action puzzler – Space Ark.
Space Ark is a mixed cocktail of some of the finest gameplay mechanics we’ve known to love. First we lay the foundations with a Breakout-like style of gameplay, where you not only control the paddle at the bottom of the screen, but also the ball (or Arkonaut in this game’s case) with the aid of your character’s jetpack. Then we add a little bit of LittleBigPlanet, which has influenced not only the game’s characters but also its bold and child-like menu system. Finally we throw in a dash of Peggle, with its many chaining multipliers and combos. These are all good games, and the end result is a pleasing sweet taste of gameplay that works very well, rather than giving you that feeling of being mashed together in a desperate hope that it will turn out just fine.
The bulk of this game’s gameplay has you bouncing a selection of Arkonauts, fresh out of their hibernation egg-like pods, collecting DNA and fruit that have neatly arranged themselves above the planet’s surface. Successfully collecting DNA will help you terraform the planet and make it inhabitable.
Five planets are available to you in total, each offering up to six missions to unlock. To complete each mission you have to complete six stages to terraform the planet and this is done collecting DNA blocks in each mission. DNA is displayed as multi-coloured gems, which you have to collect before you can open the exit portal and continue onto the next stage. Collecting everything on screen before heading through into the exit portal results in a perfect stage and lashings of extra points are on offer here as well as bronze, silver and gold mission awards. When a collection of DNA combos is made, fruit appears in its place and on collecting this fruit will help boost your score multiplayer for mucho points at the end of the mission.
After playing through the first planet everything seems pretty straightforward and a little too easy, maybe even a little bit too repetitive, as there are very little game changing elements thrown into the mix at this early stage. However, with a little patience and progress onto the second planet and beyond, you soon start to look at Space Ark in a different light where a little more thinking is required from you. At this point you soon begin to focus on the required DNA combo meter, which is poised on the left side of the screen. This is because if you don’t fulfil this combo amount you will not be able to terraform the planet you are on, and no terraforming means no inhabitable planets and some very unhappy pandas, bunnies and bears. To successfully fulfil the combo meter you have to collect groups of three or more blocks of DNA of the same colour. At times this can prove to be quite tricky and you soon find yourself prior to launching your Arkonaut upwards you are assessing the blocks above, planning your bounce and trajectory towards the coloured groups of DNA to string the best combos and pray you don’t mess up your trajectory.
Throughout your journey there are a selection of aids to help you increase your combos. Some items, when hit, will drop power-ups for your bounce pad; these range from increasing the width of your bounce pad, safety beams that span the planet surface to catch any falling Arkonauts and avoid your character hitting the surface and spilling out all the DNA blocks you have collected previously. Dual and single cannons power-ups allow you to shoot and clear straight DNA blocks and Fruit groups without the need of moving your character over to collect them. There are also some helpful power-ups like the Fruit Vacuum, which sucks up dropping fruit without the need for you to rush to them before they hit the planet surface and be destroyed. All of these have some form of lifespan to them, so you have to plan on using them wisely, as sometimes without them you will not fulfil the right amount of combos to progress.
Visually Space Ark is a fun and quirky looking title. The game oozes colour, bold and chunky cartoon-like graphics and a wide selection of playable characters. The option to swap these characters for your own Xbox LIVE Avatar is a nice touch, but with the colourful and stylised backgrounds and on-screen objects I found when using my Avatar it seemed a little out of place.
Multiplayer in Space Ark is a little light on its offerings. Being a fast passed title, Space Ark mirrors such other XBLA titles of this type where online modes are not present and are replaced in favour of the more rapid local modes. Turn-based or score based modes could still have been achievable online, but alas we’ll have to make do with competing with friends and family the same room.
Space Ark is a fun game and at first feels shallow and a little bit of a throw away Xbox LIVE title, something the trial may put across to most gamers but, with a little patience and further pursuit you soon uncover the much needed use of strategy and planning in the later challenging planets. You’ll certainly get your 800points if you stick to terraforming all the planets in this game, even more so if you wish to collect all the perfect awards as well. So if you are hung-up over Peggle, lost in LittleBigPlanet and bored of Breakout, make sure you at least check Space Ark out, as there might be something in here that will float your boat.